They Made These Movies Better Three Decades Ago (Not A Review Of The Hulu Production)

I woke up this evening to find my wife watching the second episode of this:

handmaid's tale 2017

Her impression of the show?

“This could never happen. Women are too stubborn. They would revolt. And at least half the men would be on their side. That would leave twenty-five percent, or less, of the population to control the rest.”

Not to mention, I told her, that a dystopian future such as this one would be economic suicide for the society that attempted such an idiotic scheme. Snatch the wealth of half the population and forbid them from participating in the workforce?

This sort of thinking only makes sense if you’re a statist with a twisted notion of the real world and how it works. If you believe that stealing wealth results in the same economic outcome as creating it.

History will teach us nothing, Gordon Sumner once wrote. Especially if you’re a leftist, I might add. History just gets in the way of all those Good Ideas™.

I remember watching the 1990 theatrical version of The Handmaid’s Tale at the movie theater on Coleman Barracks, in Mannheim, Germany, where I was stationed from 1989 to 1991 while on active duty in the U.S. Army.

The 400-seat theater played several different movies throughout the week, usually titles that had been released stateside months, sometimes years, earlier. If a movie’s poster looked interesting, I’d fork over my two bucks (maybe it was two-fifty) and give the picture a chance.


The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) drew me in solely because of its cast. I didn’t know anything about the story or the political message peddled by the original novel. I’d seen Natasha Richardson in Patty Hearst not long beforehand and been impressed with her performance. The supporting cast was very respectable. That was enough for me.

The movie didn’t bore me, I had to give it that. I also don’t remember feeling beaten over the head by the filmmakers with any sort of heavy-handed message. Being younger and less experienced in life, I didn’t question the plausibility of the movie’s dystopian future or the behavior of its characters. It just didn’t occur to me back then.

My impression walking out of the Coleman Barracks theater at the end of the movie? Not bad. Not a movie I’d recommend to friends– it was pretty bleak and unpleasant stuff– but possibly worth checking out again some time down the road, which I did, a few years later.

Second time around, the picture didn’t play as well. This time, it felt medicinal. Its lack of humor and wit prevented me from connecting with it as much as I had the first time. Maybe the plot and its characters just weren’t that interesting to merit repeat viewings, I thought.

I never imagined that, nearly thirty years later, anyone would turn the story into a series, or miniseries, running multiple hours in length. There didn’t seem to be all that much of a plot to stretch out. 

But perhaps that’s just my old-fashioned, Gen-X viewer sensibilities creeping into play.  The sensibility that favors positive results over good intentions.

Nowadays, it’s no big thing for political posturing to trump good storytelling. Sadly, it’s all too common, which is just one reason I keep returning to my collection of older theatrical motion pictures rather than taking a chance and investing my free time on the new ‘content’ I find streaming through my HD TV set, such as the Hulu production of The Handmaid’s Tale.

The older I get, the more I realize I have lesser and lesser free time to waste on iffy ventures.

I don’t necessarily have to agree with the political bias of a motion picture or its filmmaker to appreciate good moviemaking.

For example, Under Fire (1983) isn’t one of my favorite movies…in fact, I have a serious problem with its main character, a journalist, choosing sides and lying, essentially, to the rest of the world on behalf of Nicaraguan communists…

…but, my political differences with the movie aside, I have to admit that it’s a very well-made, very watchable motion picture.

Full disclosure: I re-reviewed Under Fire on this blog last year and judged it a bit harshly in terms of its basic entertainment value.

Sidewinder’s View: “Under Fire” (1983) [Warning: SPOILERS]

I went back later and cut the film a bit more slack. I must have been in a sour mood during my previous viewing. It’s actually a well-made, frequently entertaining motion picture, enough so that I sought out the Twilight Time Blu-ray for my collection. I can be wishy-washy that way.

Unlike so many of today’s Important Political Movies™, Under Fire doesn’t go down like medicine, a real credit to the artists who made it.

By and large, filmmakers dabbling in these sorts of pictures today, whether for motion pictures or streaming TV, aren’t nearly as talented.

Maybe they’re just not interested in entertaining their audience. Perhaps they’re artistically incapable of doing so, but so much of what they crank out nowadays…all for a good cause, y’know…is just boring. A lot of self-indulgent naval-gazing, with filmmakers lazily highlighting all the wrong moments (i.e. Pregnant pause, anyone? Come on in! We got a boatload for ya!).

Plots are gratuitously stretched out without regard for narrative pacing. The visuals are drab and unappealing. The music scores are often pretentious, yet mopey and unadventurous.

In terms of sheer propaganda, these folks get a flunking grade. Hollywood was better at this kind of filmmaking when I was younger, that’s for sure.

You almost gotta wonder when that ten-to-thirteen-hour TV miniseries of Orwell’s 1984 hits streaming. At this rate, it won’t be long. Or, rather, it will, but…you know what I mean.


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